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Callahan v. United Network for Organ Sharing

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  1. Court Access

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Date Filed: Jan. 27, 2021

Background: In 2019, some hospitals and patients awaiting liver transplants filed a lawsuit against the United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit organization that administers the United States’ organ procurement network.

As part of the proceedings, the plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs filed a supplemental brief in support of their motion for preliminary injunction and attached certain documents they obtained from UNOS in discovery. The attached documents, along with portions of the brief that quoted from the attached documents, were temporarily sealed. After the district court denied their preliminary injunction motion, the plaintiffs moved to unseal the redacted portions of the brief and the documents. The district court granted their unsealing motion in part in September 2020.

UNOS then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the district court incorrectly held that the records are judicial records to which the common law right of access applies and, in the alternative, that the district court abused its discretion in finding that the right of access was not overcome.

Our Position: The Eleventh Circuit should affirm the district court’s unsealing order.

  • The qualified common law right of access to judicial records applies to records filed in connection with pretrial motions unrelated to discovery.
  • A party’s motive in filing a judicial record is irrelevant to whether the public’s qualified common law right of access to that record is overcome.

Quote: “Adopting UNOS’s erroneous interpretation of judicial records would imperil the news media’s ability to timely report on civil lawsuits of significant interest to the public. The public’s right of access to judicial records applies contemporaneously with their filing.”

Related: The Reporters Committee previously filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case. The brief, focusing on a jurisdictional issue related to UNOS’s unsealing order appeal, argued that the Eleventh Circuit should ensure that orders denying motions to unseal — and orders that otherwise delay or restrict public access to court records — remain immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine, which allows for immediate appellate review of certain orders issued while a case is still ongoing.